Snorkeling the Wreck of the Cali, Grand Cayman
And I thought the entry to the Eden Rock snorkel was strange. I entered the water to see the Wreck of the Cali off the deck of a restaurant.
Much like Eden Rock, the entrance to snorkeling the Wreck of the Cali is along the busy North Church Street in George Town, the largest city in Grand Cayman. The road is narrow and there is not much room to park which is how I ended up parking and entering the wreck from Rackam’s restaurant in the first place. I intended to park at the dive shop there on N. Church Street but they only have a handful of parking stalls out in front of their store. I ended up pulling into Rackam’s parking lot when I saw they had plenty of open stalls and also advertised that you could enter the water from their dock.
I have to say that the staff at Rackam’s was super helpful, me being the lone, clueless snorkeler that I was. A waiter noticed I was trying to figure out whether or not I could just go for it from the deck and pointed me in the right direction. He also was friendly enough to offer to keep my car keys at the bar.
After descending the algae encrusted ladder off of the lovely Rackam’s deck, I spent some time swimming around and trying to find where the Cali was. There was certainly scattered wreckage along the bay but it wasn’t until I swam up to an anchored boat with visible oxygen tanks along the side which made me assume there were divers nearby. There are buoys and a dock in the bay too but they’re not an exact indicator of where the wreck is. The visibility in the water wasn’t the best seeing as there had been some wind that day, kicking up some of the debris along the ocean floor. I was also dealing with lower light because it was nearing sunset which gave everything that kind of eerie greenish hue.
For those of you with interest in the history of this sunken vessel, the Cali was a four-masted schooner that sunk just outside the harbor in 1944. It was 220 feet long and ran via diesel engines which you can find on the ocean floor along with its hull. After sinking, the ship was blown up to avoid any potential hazards a volatile sunken ship can potentially cause. The maximum depth of the ship is at 24 feet in the sandy areas and 10 feet in some places.
I saw bits and pieces of the ship after exiting on the ladder and observing a few fish along the way. There is a decently sized tarpon population in the water, I’m sure in part because Rackam’s has a daily tarpon feeding at 7:30 PM. Here I saw a school swimming back, I’m sure in search of food because what is life really about if not stuffing our faces? See, humans and fish really aren’t that different.
A lovely blue tang was weaving in the fan coral. Even though these little dudes are pretty ubiquitous at snorkeling locations all around the island (Collier Beach, Cayman Kai, Rum Point), they are still fun to watch, even when they’re not in a large school and you’re just catching them on their own.
Here was a juvenile French angelfish which was stunning. When they’re grown they are a little less striking because they become more spotted and less distinctly marked. There’s a metaphor about aging in there somewhere.
This downed mast had some French grunt fish, blue tang, and what are either black durgon or black damselfish swimming along it. There’s even a sea urchin to the left of the mast if you can spot it nestled among the rocks there. Such a nice variety of color.
This bit of rubble didn’t have any major fish circling about but there were a few small goby fish—skinny, tubular, bite-sized stripped fish who make their way through the tiniest of nooks and crannies.
When I finally swam up on the majority of the wreck, I was stunned by the quiet of it all. Because it was blown up, everything is in bits and pieces, only skeletal remains dotting the bay floor. There’s something eerie and oddly poetic about the whole scene, not to mention moving. Since I was the only snorkeler in sight, being alone with the entombed ship was particularly memorable. There aren’t many times for me these days when I’m alone with my thoughts very often. In the car, on a run, I have music or a podcast filling my ears and commandeering anything that may independently crop up in a proverbial thought bubble.
No, it was just me, myself, and some fish in that water. The juxtaposition of the empty shell of industrial rubble being filled with small, colorful and lively fish was interesting to me. I’d never snorkeled a wreck before and I’m glad I got to do this one alone near the edge of the day.
All right, enough of my rambling. Here are some of the scenes and fish I came across. This was probably the largest swarming of sergeant majors that I had seen. I love striped fish—so striking. Even though the wreck has been on the wrong edge of the water for 70 years, the coral growth isn’t as massive as I would have assumed. Here was a nice piece of brain coral on the left edge of this particular chunk of wreckage. The dots of blue working their way through the middle of it give you an idea for the scale of everything.
Side note: if you’re going to snorkel, you’re going to get more out of your experience if you know how to skin dive, which is being comfortable with kicking down to observe things nearer to the ocean floor, knowing how to relieve any discomfort caused by water pressure, and surfacing to purge your snorkel. I took a snorkeling class before my trip and it gave me a lot of helpful little tips that made this dive more enjoyable.
Holy massive mess of sunken chain, Batman! Again, the size of this is impressive when you realize that these are regular sized fish swimming around. Here are some sergeant majors and what I think are yellowtail snapper.
These ribs of the ship reminded me of a giant fish-filled ice tray.
As I swam out of the water and made my way to the exit, I noticed on my footage that there were two very large tarpon making their way behind me. Do you see them on the left? Kinda creepy.
Once I got out of the water, the same waiter found me and gave me a hose where I could rinse off. Seriously—the nicest, most helpful guy. I can’t imagine I would have gotten any more attention had I used a dive shop as my entry point. I couldn’t help but feel very taken care of by a man who wasn’t trying to get any money out of me (I don’t think). He also gave me an extra towel that had been left behind by a cruise shipper.
There you have it: my very first wreck snorkel. It was a little low on the sea life seeing as it is somewhat far inland where there’s a fair share of water craft traffic but I found the eerie, quietness of the whole scene exhilarating. If you’re going to be snorkeling in Grand Cayman, especially if you are at the nearby Eden Rock, I highly recommend stopping by and snorkeling the Wreck of the Cali. Say hi to the wait staff for me!